Leaner Spring Trade Show puts more focus on community businesses and artisans

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Fort McMurray’s first trade show without any COVID-19 restrictions managed to bring 10,000 people to MacDonald Island Park by the end of the weekend and provided a preview of what future trade shows will prioritize.

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There were the usual car dealerships and people pushing hot tubs or cheap products usually seen in late-night infomercials. But this year’s show also welcomed more home-based businesses and artists selling products they had made with their own hands in their communities. And for the first time, the trade show had craft brewers and distillers from across Alberta.

“There was a lot of positive feedback about the number of craft businesses we brought in this year,” said Dianna de Sousa, executive director of the Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce.

“There have been conversations inside about other places seeing trade fairs fade and disappear. The people of Fort McMurray always have a trade show that can grow with the right offers.

The chamber’s first trade show since 2020 took place last fall and was attended by around 7,000 people. de Sousa said many people who once made a living by visiting different trade shows are still struggling after the pandemic shuttered trade shows for two years.

Even with the lifting of restrictions, some sellers can no longer afford to travel as often as before. Others face inflation and a volatile global supply chain network that has left them without inventory.

“Almost every trade show in Alberta has the same issues,” she said. “It was difficult in some cases, but exceeded in other areas. It was our first time with a craft market and it met our expectations.”

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Vendors managed to fill two pitch houses and the curling rink, but long-time customers of the show agree the event has dwindled since global oil prices plummeted in late 2014. But vendors were still optimistic about the future of trade shows as they shift to independent businesses.

Kallie Williams of Kalex Custom Carvings was born in Fort McMurray and now runs her business from her Stony Plain home. She’s been a salon salesperson since 2015. The vibe at the Fort McMurray salon is always positive, even though it’s a small affair.

“There were a lot of pyramid schemes here. Now artists aren’t holding back anymore,” Williams said. “You can come and share it with the world and it’s just a beautiful thing to see.”

She’s also not worried about the demise of trade shows as more and more people opt to shop online. She is also a salesperson at St. Albert Farmers Market and the Making Edmonton Show, and is considering the Butterdome Craft Sale in Edmonton.

“When you look through a screen, it’s hard to see the quality of the parts you’re getting,” Williams said. “Nobody knows their product better than the artist, so when you come to see people at a trade show, you get nothing but passion and love for what’s going on around you. “

Fort McMurray-based artist Amy Keller-Rempp at her booth at the Fort McMurray Spring Trade Show at MacDonald Island Park on Sunday, May 1, 2022. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Fort McMurray-based artist Amy Keller-Rempp at her booth at the Fort McMurray Spring Trade Show at MacDonald Island Park on Sunday, May 1, 2022. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
A woman grabs a plant to sell at the Fort McMurray Spring Trade Show at MacDonald Island Park on Sunday, May 1, 2022. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
A woman grabs a plant to sell at the Fort McMurray Spring Trade Show at MacDonald Island Park on Sunday, May 1, 2022. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Rick and Jan Kieziak of the Cold Lake Brewing and Distilling Co. at the Fort McMurray Spring Trade Show at MacDonald Island Park on Sunday, May 1, 2022. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Rick and Jan Kieziak of the Cold Lake Brewing and Distilling Co. at the Fort McMurray Spring Trade Show at MacDonald Island Park on Sunday, May 1, 2022. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
People watch hot tubs at the Fort McMurray Spring Trade Show at MacDonald Island Park on Sunday, May 1, 2022. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
People watch hot tubs at the Fort McMurray Spring Trade Show at MacDonald Island Park on Sunday, May 1, 2022. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
People get food at the Fort McMurray Spring Trade Show at MacDonald Island Park on Sunday, May 1, 2022. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
People get food at the Fort McMurray Spring Trade Show at MacDonald Island Park on Sunday, May 1, 2022. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

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